Plagiarism, Insurrection And High Theater In Cleveland
The most dramatic, chaotic, and in every possible way historic national party convention of my lifetime has ended, and with it what you know of the Republican Party.
Citizen Donald J. Trump accepted the nomination to run for the most powerful post on the planet; sit as arbiter of its largest economy and its enormous military might. During the four-day proceedings, which is normally a political infomercial with funny hats, bad music and occasionally Clint Eastwood talking to a chair, there was the blatant plagiarizing of a less than decade’s-old speech, an alarmingly spastic tirade by Rudy Giuliani, a dozen people who painted America as a dystopian horror-scape of apocalyptic genocide, 10,000 calls to jail the Democratic opponent, a parade of Trump children telling us they love daddy, the last time Chris Christie will be nationally relevant, and for some reason, Scott Baio.
The star of the proceedings was Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who played his unflinching I-Me-Mine character to the hilt and unleashed an exhaustive Clinton-like 28-minute aria on the blessed tenets of conservatism with not the slightest nod to the party’s candidate. In fact, Cruz went as far as coaxing the TV audience to “vote their conscience” which is lawyerly political-speak for “don’t vote for this asshole” and left the stage to a torrent of boos and catcalls. Proving with sports-car precision how amazingly focused on all-things Ted Cruz he remains, he has now shifted his “Me or the Highway” approach from the Republican establishment to the party’s grassroots and with it likely his political career.
Cruz, of course, is betting against Trump stock like Trump bet on the housing market collapse in ’08 by assuming this is a black swan candidacy in which he will emerge as the “Told Ya So” candidate in four years. This of course only works if the party and its base doesn’t lay on him part of the blame for the candidate’s eventual defeat, which if you listened to the donor class and party loyalists’ evisceration of his gambit, he may well be.
Oh, and as the raucous GOP crowd turned on the sore-loser lament, Trump, in a wildly unconventional move, emerged from the dark wings of the arena to start interacting with the apoplectic audience.
The Trump Show had begun.
In fact, Trump not only ignored the traditional theatrics of keeping the nominee from sight until the final day’s acceptance speech, he showed up every day, including introducing his wife before things got underway early Thursday.
During this whole wonderfully free-formed fiasco, Chairman and CEO of FOX News Roger Ailes was sacked amid lawsuits and a lengthy investigation surrounding his groping of the myriad of blonde-bombshell studio hosts he hired over the past two decades of rolling out some of the lowest forms of carnival-like programming masked as journalism. Ailes was famously mocked and discarded as a piker by Trump a few months ago when the Republican nominee refused to kiss his sagging ass and defied party rules to show up for a highly promoted network debate.
In 24 short hours, Trump vanquished his two most ardent enemies, one run from the arena under a cloak of security and the other an unemployed sexual deviant.
This set the stage for the man himself, who changed the silver-and-black podium the plebeians were forced to use and replaced it with an Elvis-in-Vegas black-and-gold one to better unfurl an excruciatingly ponderous one hour and fifteen minutes (longest acceptance speech in nearly half a century) harangue on every possible subject pertinent to modern society.
Strangely enough Trump was the least interesting part of the week in Cleveland, which began when hundreds of delegates across 11 states tried to halt proceedings to re-write party rules. The long-shot plan was to free delegates to “vote their conscience” (“don’t vote for this asshole”) and throw the entire convention into turmoil. Trump crushed this too.
One curious but predictable aspect of this convention was the campaign’s opportunistic bandwagon jump on the Nixionian “Law & Order” trope, preying on the fears heightened by over-saturated media coverage of the violence home and abroad; specifically the shooting of unarmed black men by white cops and angry lunatics enacting vengeance for these crimes by mowing down police. Trump’s and by association now the Republican Party’s gamble here is to embrace the “state” over citizen safety and civil rights and align completely with law enforcement, regardless of the frightening number of incidents of unprovoked killings by armed civil servants. The dangerous and quite frankly, considering Trump’s constant ringing of the “politically incorrect” bell, silencing of criticism against deadly injustice by tax-funded protectors of our communities and couching it as something akin to un-American damages his general election prospects.
But make no mistake, Donald Trump has done something remarkable here, something that has not been done by a presidential candidate since Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1932; he has fundamentally changed the entire structure and outlook of a major political party. Where open and unfettered free trade reigned for half a century, there is nationalism. Where colonialism and international intervention and annexation exploded across the globe since the 1890s and expanded in the mid-20th century with the NATO alliance, now becomes America-first isolationism. Hell, the fact that a Republican candidate stood on a convention stage and uttered the words, “corporate greed and rigged Wall Street influence” is as stunning as it was to hear a CEO being cheered for stating, “I am proud to be gay.”
And yet the Trump Show did nothing, and I mean nothing, to expand the candidate’s appeal to independent voters, Millennials, single women, African Americans, Hispanics, Latinos, or Asians, all demographics that he and his party have all-but alienated. This was the last, best time for Trump to remake at least part of the image he trotted out in a very aggressive primary campaign, wherein he hurled unprecedented insults at everyone and everything. This was the week to pull it back, pivot, become a viable national candidate; and he did not. Perhaps to his credit, or his political naiveté, he vociferously doubled down on all of it. This is Trump’s biggest gamble. It has always been his gamble and it has worked all the way to accepting this most unlikely nomination.
He promised a show in Cleveland, and he gave us one. He now promises to be elected president of the United States. That one will be much more difficult.
Win or lose, however, it is even more difficult still to imagine the Republican Party ever being the same.